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What is a Moon Tree?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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President Richard Nixon had an entire speech prepared in case the Apollo 11 astronauts became stranded on the Moon.  more...

December 8 ,  1965 :  Pope Paul VI promulgated Vatican II into ecumenical law.  more...

A moon tree is a tree which has been grown from seeds which were sent into space with Apollo 14 in January 1971. These tree can be found in many odd corners of the world, as they proved to be extremely popular with people on Earth, and in addition to the original moon trees, there are a number of second generation specimens grown from cuttings. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is actually in the process of trying to track down all the moon trees, as poor records were kept in the 1970s when they were distributed.

The story of the moon trees begins with Stuart Roosa, who worked as a smoke jumper for the United States Forest Service, and later as an Air Force test pilot. He was offered the opportunity to train as an astronaut and took it, being added to the crew roster for Apollo 14. All of the crew members on the flight were allowed to take along a few small personal items, and Roosa declared that he wanted to take tree seeds.

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In cooperation with the Forest Service, Roosa carried hundreds of loblolly pine, sycamore, sweetgum, redwood, and douglas fir seeds on the flight. Staff at the Forest Service were curious to know what would happen to the seeds after traveling in space, and NASA thought it might be a good public relations campaign, connecting people to the space program with a moon tree in every major community. Roosa orbited the moon alone with his seeds while his companions worked on the moon's surface, and then the three returned to Earth, where the canister of seeds accidentally broke, raising concerns about their viability.

Roosa separated the seeds by species and sent them off to Forest Service biologists, who managed to germinate almost all of them. Immediately, requests for moon trees started pouring in. A common feature at many American bicentennial celebrations was a moon tree, and the moon tree proved to be popular with foreign dignitaries as well. Moon trees were planted in many American cities and sent to places like Japan, Brazil, and Germany, among others.

The United States Forest Service couldn't meet the moon tree demand, so it started propagating from cuttings to create a second generation of the trees. As the trees mature, they are not noticeably different from their Earth counterparts, and one would not know that a tree is a moon tree unless the tree happens to be marked with a plaque. Many of the species chosen are extremely long-lived, so chances are good that many of the moon trees are still alive.

Although it may seem astounding, NASA largely forgot about the moon tree program until a few curious people contacted the agency to see if they could get cuttings. Dave Williams at the Goddard Space Center rose to the occasion, trying to track down the moon trees and keeping an exhaustive list of all the verified moon trees around the world for people interested in this event in NASA's history. Williams didn't have to look very far for his first moon tree, as there is a sycamore on the grounds of the Goddard Space Center.

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anon58157
Post 5

I ask: were those seeds actually exposed to the Moon's "atmosphere"? If not, what difference other than a gravity variation did they encounter on that voyage in space?

anon58151
Post 4

Sputnik ~ Wow, what a nice surprise this morning! I was born and reared in Sacramento so I'm delighted to see my hometown mentioned. I haven't been to Berkeley in a while, but I see Capitol Park all the time.

I assume our Redwood is planted there? I used to know the author of a book sold in the Capitol gift shop (in the basement.) It was a fascinating study of all the trees (and maybe some significant plantings) in the park. I'm sad any time we lose a tree!

Thanks, 1 ~ kt joye

anon58123
Post 3

"...extremely popular with people on

Earth..."

Yes, all too sadly, off-planet interest in moon trees has been non-existent.

anon58121
Post 2

A website on the Internet is home of American Forests ... (type it as one word using the dot com suffix)American Forests is a non-profit conservation group and their mission is to grow trees that are descendants of trees associated with famous or historic people, places and events.

The information above will guide you to the web page and allow you to purchase a "Moon Tree Sycamore" which has been germinated from an original Moon Tree.

~Kyzee~

sputnik
Post 1

There is a moon tree in Sacramento, that was forgotten and nearly removed. It is a beautiful large redwood, now prominently marked.

There are a few redwoods on the Humboldt State University campus and one redwood in Tilden Park in Berkley. There are many more trees, planted all over United States.

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